Passing of Paul H. Balderston, 98, oldest native of New Hope
Paul H. Balderston of New Hope died Sunday, Feb. 1, 2015. He was 98.
A lifelong resident and the oldest native of New Hope, he was born to Joseph W. and Pauline Balderston at 89 N. Main St. on the evening of Aug. 26, 1916. His father was 52. and had become an established horticulturalist. He supplied New Hope and Lambertville, N.J.’s mom-and-pop grocery stores with vegetable produce.
In 1922, when Paul was six, two important events occurred. First, he entered first grade in the elementary school on West Mechanic Street. On display in the school was a painting in which the school is depicted above the valley below. Painted by a local grocer, Joseph Pickett, and titled ‘Manchester Valley,’ it refers to a bygone era of silk mills along Ingham Spring Creek and the weavers who came from Manchester, England. Paul saw this painting every school day for six years. Paul experienced an early sense of community. Today this painting is in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
In the second instance, the Eagle Fire Company got its first motorized fire truck. It was a Hahn, manufactured in Hamburg, PA. The boy fell in love with machines, and this interest grew throughout his life. He sold fire engines in the early 1950’s. He bought a backhoe and front loader as recently as 2007. He would plow the snow from his church parking lot until age 97.
Young Paul learned to garden and became a trained florist before he graduated from New Hope-Solebury High School. He would remain a florist through the early 1940s, when his focus became carpentry. Gardening, however, remained a passion for the rest of his life.
Paul’s father died in 1935. Paul joined the Eagle Volunteer Fire Company that same year and was made a driver by the middle of 1936. By 1937, he was first assistant engineer and first assistant chief. He was the youngest person to ever hold these offices. Within a decade he went on to become chief. This is documented in the 1948 short feature movie ‘Neighbors in the Night’ produced by Justin Herman and released by Paramount Pictures. Paul appeared with his wife, Ellen, and their six year old son, Joe.
Paul later served as chief engineer and vice-president and acquired from Redding Funk the land where the firehouse stands today. He also helped to start the Bucks County Fireman Association. For the Eagle Fire Company, he initiated a program in which two-way radio equipment was installed in the work vehicles of active firemen. The broadcast system was in the Balderston home and was able to dispatch the fire company 24/7. It was monitored by Paul’s wife, Ellen, an at-home mom.
Paul met Ellen Scott White on a blind date in 1939. Mrs. White was a widow, with a 13 year old daughter, Kitty. Paul and Ellen were married and the new family lived at 257 N. Main St., Lambertville, N.J. Kitty went to Lambertville High School, from which she graduated a few years later.
In November, 1940 a son, Thomas Scott, was born. In March, 1942, a second son, Donald Joseph, was born. The family moved to New Street in New Hope in 1943. Daughter Ellen Elizabeth, was born in July 1944.
Paul bought stone from a barn being demolished near Feasterville. With this stone, he built his home at 105 N. Main St. in 1947, where he raised his family and remained for 59 years. In 2006, he moved to Kiltie Drive at age 90 to be out of the Delaware River flood plain. Paul was very amused when the Welcome Wagon Committee arrived and wanted to know what brought him to New Hope. His father was born on River Road in 1864 and his grandfather was born nearby in 1822.
Nearly a lifetime ago, 105 North Main Street was home to many happy events: there was Kitty’s wedding reception on Dec. 23, 1950, after her marriage to James H. Fischer, a high school teacher and later principal; there was the birth of grandson, Hank Fischer in June 1953, the same day Paul and crew poured concrete for a swimming pool his wife could manage from her kitchen window. There were warm summer days with the Old Towns Main canoe on the canal and ice skating in the winter. There was the creek full of frogs and watercress that ran through the backyard between the house and the canal.
There was the birth of granddaughter, Nan Fischer in 1955. August that year brought a great flood; the family left the house in a canoe going down Main Street. There was water five feet high throughout the house. It took weeks and months to recover. There was so much work to be done everywhere.
The time had come for Paul to start his own company. Thus, P.H. Balderston General Construction was born. Five years later, the business name was changed to P.H. Balderston & Son when Joe joined his dad. An addition to the house designed by architect William Hunt was built for office space. The company was hired to do restoration on the Parry Mansion as it was becoming a museum. They built the structure that is now Fred’s Breakfast Club, and a workshop was built on the other side of the canal. The company became known for excellence and integrity and operated for nearly four decades.
The mid-1950s created a new challenge for Paul when he was asked by Mayor Sylvester Maple to chair a commission charged with writing a zoning ordinance; holding public hearings; and convincing town council to pass the ordinance, no easy task in a place like New Hope. A previous attempt at zoning a decade earlier had failed. But Paul succeeded and then served for 18 years as chairman of the planning commission. He created the first planned use development ordinance in the State of Pennsylvania, making history all the way to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court where the ordinance was upheld. It allowed Village II to be built. Paul also helped in the choice of location for the toll bridge crossing the Delaware River above New Hope. This would divert Route 202 traffic, which previously had to go through New Hope.
Paul’s pride and joy, grandson Paul John, was born in 2001 to his son, Joe and his wife, Diane.
Paul was director emeritus for First Federal Savings and Loan of Bucks County, and was president of the Board of Trustees of the historic Lahaska United Methodist Church.
Paul was preceded in death by his wife of 52 years, Ellen, and his daughter and son-in-law, Kitty and James H. Fischer. He is survived by his companion, Virginia K. Bradfield; his son, T. Scott Balderston and his partner, James Erdesky; his son, D. Joseph Balderston and his wife, Diane Thomas; his daughter, Ellen; his grandchildren, Hank Fischer and his wife, Anita, Nan Rollo and her husband, Rick, and Paul John Balderston; and his great-grandsons, James and Donald Fischer.
Finally, on the 70th anniversary of his membership in the Eagle Volunteer Fire Company, Bucks County Commissioner said, “Paul Balderston is a sterling example of duty and dedication to community service.” Joe called his father his coach, his professor and mentor. They were best friends for 72 years.
A service of celebration will be held at 10:30 a.m., Saturday, April 11, at the Lahaska United Methodist Church, Route 263 at Street Road, Lahaska. The family will be greeting guests from 9:30 a.m. that morning until the start of services. Following committal services in the church cemetery, there will be a reception at the Cock and Bull Restaurant in Peddlers’ Village.
In lieu of flowers, donations in memory of Paul may be made to the New Eagle Volunteer Fire Company, P.O. Box 314, New Hope, PA 19838, or to the Lahaska United Methodist Church, P.O. Box 134, in Lahaska, or Van Horn-McDonough Funeral Home in Lambertville.